So you’ve sold your game


It’s been a week since launch, typically the most crucial period that decides whether a game is a ‘success’ or not, so it’s an interesting point at which to review how we’ve done.

Overall, the game has performed better than I, or even our publisher, had expected! We recouped our development budget in about 3 days. The game is now profitable 🙂

We have a wishlist to sales ratio of about 16%, and a conversion rate (i.e wishlisting users who proceed to purchase it) of about 5.5%. These numbers are pretty low, despite our good sales as the vast majority of wishlists came post-release from streamers/influencers and press coverage. In other words, the conversion rate is low as the people who would’ve bought t immediately have already done so, bypassing the wishlist process.

What this also means is that our pretty good absolute wishlist numbers could translate to good performance during sales periods when the game is disounted, as we have a large pool of potential buyers, likely waiting for those discounts.

We currently have a total of 104 user reviews, 100 of which are positive. That puts our sales to reviews ratio somewhere between 25-50x (I’m not giving a specific number as you could calculate our sales figures from that, and I’m not certain if we can give our actual numbers out).

6.5% of players are playing on Mac. About 1% are playing on Linux via Steam Proton. While we don’t have a official Linux build players have reported that the game runs perfectly well through Proton. That said, the low player counts on Linux suggest a proper Linux build is not worth the effort for the vast majority of games. While a proper Linux build might result in more copies sold, you could also argue the niche nature of our game means the number of Linux players in our playerbase is above average anyway.

4.9% of sold copies were refunded. General consensus is that the average refund rate is about 5-8%, so we’re a tiny bit below average here.

44% of revenue came from North America, 27% from Western Europe and 17% from Asia. Note that this differs from the % of copies sold due to regional pricing, e.g more revenue came from North America despite the % of copies sold in North America being lower.

Based on Achievement stats, 86% of players completed the tutorial, 7% of players completed the game and 3% of players 100%ed the game. The great thing about our per-level leaderboards is that they also function as user analytics, giving us a pretty granular data about how far individual players have gotten through the game. If your game design approach is more data-driven (mine isn’t), this data could really help figure out how smooth your difficulty curve is.

The conclusion that I pesonally draw from the game’s performance is that yes, making games that cater to small niches is absolutely viable. You don’t have to compete with the big premium indie titles if you don’t want to or can’t. Fans of niche genres can also be forgiving of some of the rougher edges of your game, or the above-average pricing, simply because they’re starved of content that fulfills that niche.

What doesn’t change is the value of marketing. Having a publisher helping you with this is incredibly valuable. Knowing who to market to is important as well, with a large amount of our outreach occurring due to word of mouth.

Marketing isn’t just a question of expertise, but time as well. During release you are going to be swamped with bug-fixes and tech support and feature requests. You won’t have the time to handle the numerous requests from streamers and Steam curators asking for review keys or updating your store page with press blurbs or setting up video broadcasts on Steam. Having a publisher absolutely helps.

Anyway, I hope this data and my past posts are somewhat illuminating.If you’re looking to go indie hit me up ?

So you wanna release your game on Mac

In one of my older posts I made a joke about the tiny amount of hipsters who still play games on mac, so now that we have *some* sales data from our release, it might be worth asking, how accurate is the joke?

Mind you, this is only the launch day’s worth of sales data so things might change. Furthermore, the nature of the game can skew the results either way. You could argue that the programmer/engineering nature of the game skews it towards PC players. Conversely you could argue that its synthesizer/electronic music nature skews it towards Mac players. Maybe it just balances out?

Of all the copies sold so far, 5% were bought by Mac users.

Now, some of the copies tagged as PC buyers could also own it on Mac, but either way 5% doesnt look like a lot. Does it make it worth the hassle to release on Mac? It obviously depends! If you’re working on Unity/Unreal a Mac build is probably pretty trivial to make without much changes to your codebase.

That said the financial impact is still worth considering, especially as a small-scale indie dev. You’ll need Macbook/iMac/cloud virtual machine to test and notarize your Mac Builds (newer Mac OS X versions will not run un-notarized apps), which is a sunk cost if you don’t already own one. Obviously this is a negligible cost if your expected revenue is in the millions of dollars, but if its in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars this is a cost to consider.

Mac support still also means another OS to support. If you are using a custom engine or your game involves a lot of lower level code, then the change in OS may mean more complications during development and post-release. Maybe the money isn’t worth a headache. One instance of this we experienced was the GIF recorder in The Signal State. This feature involved pulling frames of the game from the frame buffer and encoding them into a GIF. This broke on newer Macs due to the new Apple Metal graphics API. Fortunately for us the fix was to simply force Mac builds to use OpenGL, but I can imagine this potentially being an issue for more graphically sophisticated games.

So you want people to wishlist your game

If you’re a smaller-scale indie dev, “the algorithm” can be very important to your game’s success.

The Signal State made it to the ‘Popular Upcoming’ list on Steam’s frontpage (don’t ask me how), and this is what our daily wishlist graph looks like now:

For comparison, the first spike was from the playable demo during Steam Next Fest.(this is a linear scale graph)

So you wanna export your game

Ok brosquito! you’ve finished localizing your game and now its time to release it. You gotta make the builds.

Simple right? You gotta make a pc build and a mac build.

WAIT. new mac os x versions wont run apps unless you notarize them, so after you make the mac build you gotta notarize them, which can only be done on a mac, because reasons, so you do that.

oh yeah dont forget to pay apple 100 bucks for a developer account for the privilege of making games for the 7 hipsters who play games on mac.

WAIT. you also released free demo versions of the game, so you gotta update those builds with the recent bug fixes.

Ok, simple enough, 4 builds, 2 of which have to be notarized on a mac.

WAIT. the chinese regional publisher is gonna get your game onto the wegame store, so you have to make builds for them. These builds must not have links to/integrations with discord/twitter/steam/etc. since those are banned in china.

ok, so you write some special code for the wegame builds.

WAIT. the chinese publisher also handles publishing of the game on steam in china, and they have a qq chat group for players. so chinese players on steam should be directed there instead.

ok so to recap:

players in other languages on steam should see steam/twitter/discord integrations.

players in chinese on steam should see steam/twitter/qq integrations.

players in chinese on wegame should not see any social media integrations.

ok you got that all done. time to make the builds.

you need a pc steam full game build.

you need a mac steam full game build, notarized.

you need a pc steam demo build.

you need a mac steam demo build, notarized.

you need a pc wegame full game build.

you need a mac wegame full game build, notarized.

you need a pc wegame demo build.

you need a mac wegame demo build, notarized.

So you need to make *8* builds.

Sigh, so you sit down and make the builds and twiddle your thumbs while unity does its thing.

ok its done and you hand the builds over and you’re done!

WAIT. The chinese publisher just spotted a typo in their localization. Time to fix it and make 8 builds all over again.

So you wanna localize your game

petition to ban all languages except english

you wanna localize your game? sure send your text for localization

get the text back, hope you didnt make any last minute changes which would mean another round of translations

import the other languages in game. oh no your text layouts are all messed up because german takes 3587 words just to say ‘click here’

ok so u make all your text boxes dynamically sizable. oh no the russian translation doesnt render right, you just get the little squares. turns out the fonts you use dont support the russian alphabet. how will putin play your game now

ok so you find some substitute fonts. oh no the chinese translations dont work either.

ok so you find some other substitute fonts.

oh no chinese still doesnt work.the game engine renders text using a font atlas, and chinese is a logographic language, so u have to regenerate the font atlases based on the actual chinese characters your game uses.

ok go ahead and do that. oh no traditional chinese doesnt work. because if chinese people cant decide which is the *real* china what makes u think we can decide what is the *real* chinese

ok regenerate font atlases for traditional chinese.

oh no korean doesnt work.etc etc etc

edit: dont forget to add support for dynamically generated font atlases if your game has dynamic text like usernames in a leaderboard

On Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal is really good. You should play it you like shooters.

It’s not without its flaws though. They tried to alter the main gameplay loop in this one. In Doom 2016 players, myself included, often stuck to the same gun (usually the super shotgun) and in Eternal they clearly want you to switch weapons more often. There’s 2 ways they do this. First is that enemies have weaknesses, e.g the Cacodemon staggers instantly if you shoot a grenade from the shotgun into its mouth. This is great. It incentivizes changing weapons and rewards you for doing so.

The second is that your max ammo is pitifully low, and so are the ammo pickups in the world. Your chainsaw, which rewards ammo when used to kill an enemy, has now 1 rechargeable fuel charge, so you’re supposed to use it more often as part of your strategies, as opposed to 2016 where its more of an ’emergency’ weapon.

This is not so great. 1 fuel charge can only kill the smallest of enemies, so when you run out of ammo you’re often scrambling around the level looking for an appropriate enemy to chainsaw. This doesn’t feel great cos’ its a disincentive. It feels like the game has an arbitrary ammo restriction, and you’re being unfairly punished for not learning to deal with it.

IF you switch weapons more often though, you won’t have to chainsaw as often, which alleviates it somewhat. The earlier you figure this out, the faster the game gets back to being fun. It does take a bit of getting used to, but once you do, the familiar flow that 2016 had returns.
There are other minor flaws here and there, but this is the main one that annoyed me. Again, it’s just a matter of getting used to it. Still a good game though.

Secret Hitler

Secret Hitler is a hidden role multiplayer card/board game which attempts to simulate the complex political dynamics that can facilitate the rise of fascism. Players are randomly and secretly assigned one of three roles: a liberal, a fascist or Hitler. Only one player is Hitler for each game. The fascist’s aim is to either enact a certain number of fascist laws, or to elect Hitler to power. Liberals must either enact a certain number of liberal laws, or to successfully execute Hitler. Liberals do not know who the other liberals are. Fascists know who the other Fascists are and know who Hitler is. Depending on the number of players, Hitler may also know who the fascists are.

Each round an election occurs where one player runs for president with another player chosen as chancellor. If successfully elected, laws are enacted through decisions made by the president and chancellor. If six liberal laws are enacted, the liberals win. If six fascist laws are enacted, the fascists win. If Hitler is executed through a presidential power, the liberals win. If Hitler is elected after three fascist laws are enacted, the fascists win.

Secret Hitler, like most games, is composed of a variety of rules and systems. However, the rules and systems of Secret Hitler introduce only a limited number of constraints. Its defining feature is information asymmetry. Who has what information is decided by the assigned roles, but how information is communicated and transmitted between players is not limited or constrained by the rules. Players are free to speak truthfully, to lie, or to say nothing at all. The win and lose states act as incentives that guide their play but do not impose any strategy or play style.

Consequently, Secret Hitler is a highly emergent game. The events that occur in the game and the progress made towards specific goals are highly contingent on the actions of players. Informal alliances and rivalries can occur spontaneously. This balance, between the guiding hand of the game’s rules and the dynamic emergent phenomena, makes Secret Hitler particularly effective at exploring how the systems of democracy can be vulnerable to subversion by fascists. Democratic systems of governance ostensibly consist of a framework of rules that are designed to be anti-fragile and self-preserving, but they are systems that humans work with, and humans are capable of a great deal of unpredictability. The unpredictability encoded in Secret Hitler’s rules are minimal. The unpredictability comes from human beings. So too does the chaos that can emerge in politics.

In 1972, German writer Heinrich Böll coined the term ‘crypto-fascism’. A crypto-fascist is an individual who supports fascism, but does so secretly, often because overt support of it is an easy way to attract unwanted scrutiny. This principle remains relevant today. In Contrapoints’ video essay, ‘Decrypting the Alt-Right’*, she outlined four strategies contemporary extremists use to conceal the extent of their right-wing leanings. One such strategy used is the use of euphemism. For instance, contemporary white supremacists like Richard Spencer often use terms like ‘ethno-nationalist’ or ‘identitarian’ to avoid ‘dirty’ terms like ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’.

This necessity for secrecy and concealment of identity is embedded in Secret Hitler’s rules. The roles assigned to players are left unknown. Only fascists know who other fascists are. In contemporary reality, this secret revealing of fascist identity comes in the form of oblique references to Pepe the Frog or the ‘Okay’ hand gesture**. The oblique gesture du jour changes frequently, ensuring that liberals, like the liberals in Secret Hitler, are not privy to the true identities of fascists. The paranoia endemic to the rise of fascism is mirrored in the game. You cannot be certain of who is a fascist, in both the game and reality.

Secret Hitler explores the dynamics of how fascism rises, but it can be argued that the game does not extend into condemning fascism. Players are assigned the roles of fascists or Hitler and are incentivized to win. The game makes no quantifiable or qualitative difference between liberals winning and fascists winning. The game simply ends with victory for either faction.

In contrast, consider Brenda Romero’s board game Train. In Train, players work together to populate a train with as many people as possible. Little context is given during play. At the end of the game, it is revealed that the train they were filling with people stops at Auschwitz. Players are made complicit in the Holocaust. A win state is subverted and becomes a lose state.

However, the emergent nature of Secret Hitler makes it difficult for the game to condemn fascism with win/lose states alone. Consider a hypothetical addition to the game: should the fascists win, a card is flipped that reveals that their victory leads to the events of World War II, resulting in the defeat of Germany, the deaths of millions, and the suicide of Hitler. Would this subvert the win state? I would argue that it would fail to do that. Due to the emergent nature of Secret Hitler, the victory earned by players feels like a consequence of the play styles and creative stratagems used by them. Gameplay in Train is fairly constrained with little room for improvisation or creativity. ‘Victory’ in Train thus feels like a result of close interaction with the rules of the game. On the other hand, victory in Secret Hitler feels causally related to a player’s creativity and decision making. Victory feels earned. Attempts to subvert it feel arbitrary and unconnected with the playing of the game. The fascists will be happy that they won, no matter what.

If thematic messaging in a game results from the interactions between player and system, then the thematic messaging in emergent games are fundamentally more unpredictable or uncontrollable. Care should be taken as a designer, lest the game says something that might be unwanted or problematic.

*: Decrypting the Alt-Right – Contrapoints

**: Pepe the Frog and the Okay hand gesture – Anti-Defamation League

Techniques of Thought: Cognition, Identity and Ideology in Disco Elysium

Disco Elysium begins in blackness. Words fade in against the emptiness. It is your ‘Ancient Reptilian Brain’ speaking to you. Soon enough your ‘Limbic System’ pipes up. They inform you “there is nothing” (ZA/UM, 2019). As your character (who we later learn is called Harry) awakens from his drunken stupor, we come to realize that this blackness is a representation of the unconscious state he was in. Because of his heavy drinking, he has lost all memory of who he was, down to his name and his job.

The first text we ever see in Disco Elysium.

Beyond being a memorable way of beginning a game, the blackness frames our perception of the game and our character in it. We enter this game not as an already established character, but as a blank slate, a tabula rasa. Harry awakens from nothing and remembers nothing. As the dialogue with Harry’s own brain progresses, we are given choices as to how to respond to them. These dialogue choices become the means by which Harry, the character, is defined. The game’s dialogue system is its keystone. All other systems revolve around it. In this essay I intend to explore how Disco Elysium’s systems, with the dialogue system at its core, provide players the opportunity to create an intricately detailed character with a rich identity encompassing personal history, personality and political ideology.

Disco Elysium is a roleplaying game set in the city of Revachol, years after a failed communist revolution led to its current state of neoliberal capitalism and soaring inequality. We play an alcoholic amnesiac detective who’s tasked with solving a grisly murder amidst an ongoing labour dispute at the local docks, all while trying to recover his forgotten identity (or construct a new one). Upon release, the game was immediately lauded for its nuanced exploration of politics and its intricate skill system and how said system tied into the game’s dialogue and character development.

To understand Disco Elysium and its subsequent success we must first understand its systems. As a game inspired by traditional tabletop roleplaying games, Disco Elysium ‘begins’ even before it begins. Traditional tabletop roleplaying games require that players create the character they will play in the game. Disco Elysium is no different. In Disco Elysium, players must allocate skill points to various skills, which come to define their character and his areas of competency. There are four main skills, but these branch out into an overwhelming list of 24 sub-skills.

The skill system in Disco Elysium. Refer to here for the full list of skills.

It is important to note that unlike other role-playing videogames, Disco Elysium does not have any other mechanically heavy systems like combat, stealth or crafting. In Disco Elysium, Harry’s interactions with the world are almost entirely played through the dialogue system. This fundamentally means that all 24 skills available in the skill system primarily relate to and interact with the dialogue system, which suggests a textual richness and complexity in the dialogue system unmatched by other games.

One of the more interesting forms this inter-system interaction takes is the internal stream of consciousness monologues that occur in response to things said by other characters. In this context, each skill functions as a ‘voice’ in this internal monologue. Should Harry’s point allocation for a certain skill exceed certain invisible thresholds, that voice will contribute to the dialogue, adding in their own response to the topic of discussion.

In this snippet the Inland Empire skill allows Harry to ‘converse’ with a corpse while the Reaction Speed skill provides additional insight into the corpse’s response.

The above screenshot provides one example of this stream of consciousness. In this scene, Harry and his partner Kim Kitsuragi are inspecting the corpse of the murder victim, left to hang from a tree. After removing the body from the tree, Harry is faced with the victim’s visage. How he responds depends on the skill point allocation of your character. In this example, Harry has high points in Inland Empire and Reaction Speed1. Faced with the corpse, Harry asks who killed him and it responds, ‘communism’. Reaction Speed then causes him to have an instinctual response to this answer – a sense that the answer speaks to a buried truth. A different skill point allocation would have led to a different conversation. For instance, this imaginary conversation would not have taken place without enough points invested into Inland Empire.

This stream of consciousness means that skill allocations – choices that are made by the player throughout the game – have concrete and continuous impact on dialogue and how dialogue is framed. Information is introduced or concealed depending on the player character’s skill point allocation. Through this, the player character’s (and by extension the player’s) perspective of the world and of the unfolding plot is shaped by how the player built their character.

Stephen Trinh compares this stream of consciousness to the Kuleshov Effect in film, explaining that “the interjections act as the context shot, so that the dialogue choices [chosen by the player] can be the to-be-interpreted shot” (Trinh, 2020). This allows dialogue choices that more meaningfully and accurately reflect the chosen personality and identity of the player character. The subtext is no longer defined solely by the player’s perceptions, but the character’s perceptions as well. Furthermore, some dialogue choices are locked away if their character does not meet a specific skill threshold, thus players are guided into roleplaying their character more ‘truthfully’, choosing dialogue options that respond to Harry’s internal thoughts, further enriching and developing his identity.

Brent Ellision categorized conversation into two models: Branching and Hub and Spoke (Ellision, 2008), where branching conversations can expand but do not loop back, while hub and spoke conversations have central hubs where conversations loop back to2. Disco Elysium features both models of conversation but builds on top of these models. Each interjection from an internal voice functions like an invisible detour. At points in the conversation, detours are taken depending on the character’s skills, without direct control from the player. Players are not informed of possible detours if their skill points do not meet the threshold. Consequently, the structure of conversations becomes significantly more sophisticated. However, as detours always return to the main path, conversations continue to have well-defined scopes without branching out of control.

A diagram depicting the structure of the conversation from the previous screenshot. Dotted lines indicate invisible detours.

These invisible detours were developed with intention. In an interview with GameSpot, lead writer Robert Kurvitz explained that the mechanics of the dialogue system was inspired by Twitter (Kurvitz, 2020). On Twitter, a user can elaborate on a tweet by making a reply tweet, which is displayed just below the original tweet. Other users can also reply to the original tweet, elaborating on the point made or suggesting tangents, thus creating an increasingly elaborate cultural ‘hive mind’. In Disco Elysium, each interjection from a voice functions like a reply tweet. The voices create a tangled web of tangents, elaborations and contradictions – a ‘hive mind’ within a mind – allowing the game to reveal the richness of the player character’s internal state of mind.

As we have seen, past skills can affect current conversations, but Disco Elysium goes further than this. Current conversations can affect the future as well. Should Harry’s conversational responses consistently reflect a specific viewpoint, his Ancient Reptillian Brain speaks to him. For instance, should Harry constantly speak in defense of the working class, your brain might ask if you wish to be a communist. Answering yes unlocks a thought in Harry’s Thought Cabinet.

The Thought Cabinet is a feature unique to Disco Elysium. The cabinet consists of various unlockable slots and a catalog of thoughts. These thoughts could be ideologies like communism, information like the location of Harry’s home, or personality ‘styles’ like ‘boring cop’. Thoughts can be assigned to a slot. Once assigned, the thought is contemplated on by Harry. After some time has passed, the thought is complete, and additional information is revealed along with possible gameplay bonuses or penalties to Harry, which range from modifiers to his skills or new conversational options.

The Thought Cabinet in Disco Elysium

In many roleplaying games, the player character is placed in a position of power, and their choices have profound consequences for the entire world. Cass Marshall explains that this can frequently pose a problem. The character is defined largely by their actions rather than their internal perspectives (Marshall, 2019). They become heroic characters without any internal identity or personality. In Disco Elysium, Harry is powerless to change the world. The player’s actions are thus not directed to the external world, but to the internal. Your choices as a player are not about affecting the world but responding to it. In the example mentioned above, responding to economic injustice with sympathy for the working class provides the opportunity to identify as a communist.

The Thought Cabinet allows Harry to be defined by his internal identity, be it ideology or personality or memories. Traditional skill systems define characters by their competencies or lack thereof, and thus do not allow the creation of vivid characters with rich identities and histories. Some role-playing games, e.g. Wasteland 2, provide a blank text field where players are invited to write a backstory, but this backstory is merely ‘flavour text’ and ignored by the game and its systems. Disco Elysium avoids this trap. The Thought Cabinet systemizes personality, memories and ideology. Your character in Disco Elysium can thus have a richly defined identity, which is acknowledged by the game and which has consequences for Harry’s journey through the world.

These two systems, the Thought Cabinet and the stream of consciousness, form a cognitive loop within Disco Elysium. As Harry encounters situations in the world, his stream of consciousness responds. This response shapes the player’s perspective of the world, and they make dialogue choices based on their perspective. Based on these dialogue choices, thoughts are formed and added to the Thought Cabinet. Contemplating on these thoughts forms Harry’s identity, which then again shapes his perspective of the world, and his stream of consciousness by extension. Through this loop, Harry becomes more well-defined as a character over time.

However, it is important to note that this cognitive loop does not exist independently of the player’s interactions. Disco Elysium gives us ‘subjective access’ to Harry by revealing his ‘internal states’ (Smith, 2010) but like many other narrative works, players are expected to make moral judgements of the world and its characters – a process referred to as ‘allegiance’ (Smith, 2010). Disco Elysium does not force Harry to adopt any beliefs or identities that the player does not want him to. Thoughts are never automatically formed from the stream of consciousness. Explicit player choice is required. Even when a thought is formed, the player has a choice to reject the thought. In Disco Elysium, you are not defined entirely by your past actions. You always have a choice. Even if the state of the world and your own instincts tempts you towards certain viewpoints, there is always the ability to choose to believe differently. We see the ideas and perspectives through Harry’s internal mind, but we as players, with our own identities, form our allegiances to specific perspectives. We are then given the freedom to realign Harry to reflect our allegiances – to reflect us.

In conclusion, Disco Elysium systemizes thinking, whether it is conscious cognition or instincts and intuition. This systemizing, embodied by the stream of consciousness and the Thought Cabinet, allow our player character Harry to be defined in a concrete manner. He has a history, an ideology and a personality, all of which have meaningful systemic and narrative consequences throughout the game. But Disco Elysium is a roleplaying game. We inhabit the role of Harry. Through play we engage in a dialogue with his mind and decide who Harry is and who he becomes based on our own perspectives and ideology. Thus, Disco Elysium is not just about understanding Harry. It is about understanding ourselves.


1 – Inland Empire indicates an aptitude for imagining the personality of inanimate objects like corpses, allowing Harry to have imaginary conversations with said objects

2 – The corpse investigation is an example of hub and spoke conversations. The player is presented with different parts of the corpse to inspect, with each part acting as a spoke. Attempting to detach the corpse from the tree is itself a spoke within the conversation.


ZA/UM (2019). Disco Elysium [Computer video game]. Estonia: ZA/UM.

Ellison, Brent. “Defining Dialogue Systems” Gamasutra, 2008

Marshall, Cass. “You can’t change the world in Disco Elysium – and that’s why it’s great”. Polygon. 2019

Trinh, Stephen. “Why I Love: The Interjections [Disco Elysium]” Gamasutra, 2020

Smith, G. (2010). What media classes really want to discuss: a student guide. Routledge.

 [GameSpot]. (2020, Jan 12). The Feature That Almost Sank Disco Elysium | Audio Logs [Video File].

              Retrieved from

Disco Elysium Wiki. (2019, November 16). Skills.

Retrieved from


“This concern — that Google might just give up on Stadia at some point and kill the service… was repeatedly brought up, unprompted, by every person we spoke with for this piece.”

Notably the only real media distribution platform Google has successfully sustained is YouTube, which A) wasn’t started by Google and B) was initially sustained by amateur videos before being monopolized by professional content creators.

A is something they cant change and B is something you cant really recreate with videogames, unless they literally cloned which they won’t because 1) already exists and 2) they’re so chronically shortsighted they’ll shut it down anyway when it doesn’t make money within 2 seconds.

Google, in its behemoth state, seems to have lost any understanding of how to build network effects (if they had any understanding to begin with) and thinks they can just buy a userbase with their huge wallet.

The mourning in Night in the Woods and Kentucky Route Zero

[minor spoilers for Kentucky Route Zero and Night in the Woods]

Kentucky Route Zero (KRZ) and Night in the Woods (NITW) are games about decay. They’re both focused on small town America, and the slow death of rural communities as a consequence of corporate consolidation and changing times. There’s a clear pattern in indie games here. This isn’t unique to American games. Disco Elysium, from Estonian developers, too is about the slow death of societies.

In NITW, Mae returns home from college to find the town she grew up in and loved altered irrevocably. The local mines have shuttered, and most of the younger populace have moved to cities for opportunities elsewhere. The town residents are aging. Small businesses are closing. Infrastructure is breaking down.

Similarly, the town at the edge of the Zero in KRZ is dying. Jobs disappeared as businesses closed or were absorbed by the Consolidated Power Co. People have left, and those that haven’t are deep in debt, slowly dying or already dead. The Power Co. pulled out of the town when it stopped making business sense. The infrastructure they were supposed to build left incomplete. As a consequence, torrential storms have flooded it, destroying many of the houses – a final death blow to the already precarious town.

For Mae, the decay is unfamiliar. She is in the prime of her youth, privileged enough to attend college, with the freedom to move beyond the town into the cities where opportunities still exist. The decay is a shock to the system – A reminder that the childhood she knew was long gone, far in the past. for the people in the Zero, the decay is all too familiar, a constant throughout their lives, a state of the world they had to live through.

Despite their similarities, NITW and KRZ are remarkably different in tone. NITW is steeped in child-like nostalgia – a longing for the world of the past. During her time at home, she relives childhood memories with the few friends who have remained. In KRZ, the nostalgia has faded. We are left with a mourning and a silent bitter anger at the powers-that-be. The residents of the Zero live in a liminal state. The world has not ended, but it looks like it might soon. Days are dedicated to mourning the past, not reliving it.

NITW’s reflects a very young perspective. The decay started before we were ever around. It lurked in the background, ignored by our youthful naivety. KRZ has an aged perspective. They have seen the tides change. They have been drowning in them. KRZ mourns the world that was. NITW mourns the world that could have been.